Enough Now!

Here is a poem I wrote, after hearing an amazing head teacher, called Jill Wood speaking about why she had taken the decision for her Year 6 Students not to take their SATS tests (compulsory exams for our 11 year old in England). She was giving her “enough now” to the detrimental effects testing can have on children. Here is what she inspired in me:

 

Consent, Divorce and Brexit

images-1Sometimes people change their mind, especially when new evidence comes to light! For example, in the medical profession, the process of consent stays open right until the operation is about to take place. It would be ludicrous to tell someone they have to go through with a leg amputation, even after it’s been discovered that their leg is in fact healthy and savable, simply because the consent form is signed! I think Brexit feels like that, except in our case, we are the leg and we’re about to cut off the body to which we are joined! Or we could compare it to a couple being forced to go through with a divorce, with all the pain involved, even after they rediscover that they are really great together, have believed lies about each other, and will both be worse off without each other. Yes – they may have some things to work through and they may need to totally reimagine their relationship, but to force the divorce through just because they were going through a rough patch, might be hugely regretful. I think Brexit feels like that – a very sad outcome to what could have been a totally different kind of conversation.

 

Yes, I accept that there are things about the EU which have made many across the UK find it difficult to want to stay in a relationship with her. But we’ve been led to believe some things about Europe which are wholly untrue and our vision got really clouded. When we step back and recognise all the good things about the relationship, knowing that it isn’t perfect and would still need a lot of work; mediating a reimagined future is so much more preferable than what a divorce is going to mean. And sometimes, it’s only after you call something off that you begin to realise that it isn’t a break-up that you want, it’s just a different kind of relationship. We are literally about to make an unbelievably terrible mistake, but it’s not too late to change our minds. 

 

Unknown-1Let’s be honest, through the unraveling scandal of Cambridge Analytica et al. we now know that Brexit was NOT the result of a “democratic process”, and the idea that we now can’t change our minds, (even though the evidence is clear of how bad it will be), is beyond ludicrous. Yes, it’s true, we were told it would be a once in a lifetime vote, and that not leaving the EU will break people’s trust in our political system – but last time I looked, there wasn’t loads of faith in it anyway! The leave campaign broke the law in terms of what they spent, told many lies, and hard though it is for us to face up to, used immorally targeted psychological manipulation to get the vote they wanted, driven by hyper-nationalist media moguls. And so NO, we don’t actually have to take the result and live with the dire  consequences. It is time to stop this madness, say sorry to our European friends and renegotiate a New European Union that works for everybody. Clearly there are some huge problems, which is why we are seeing the rise of the far right across the continent. Many people feel un-listened to. Europe has forgotten how to create a positive story of the future and so we are retreating into narratives of fear and separation. But, rather than leave, what we need to do is come together with a bolder and more positive dream of what it means to be in Union together and then we can begin to face up to some of the really complex issues we face at a global level.  

 

images-2We’ve been worried that being part of the Union means that we are losing our own national identity. It doesn’t mean that at all! Have you seen the Dutch fans at a football match?! When I married my wife, I was still me, she was still her, but we also became something new together! The EU really doesn’t limit our sense of individual nationhood, rather it expands our sense of partnership! We’ve believed that that the union prevents our ability to make good and sensible laws, but this simply isn’t true! Rather, the EU upholds human rights and helps us to embrace ‘otherness’. Europe and the European Union is extraordinarily amazing, but it absolutely needs to modernise, change and embrace the positive new power movements which are emerging. In the bloodiest continent on the planet, we have managed to live at peace with each other for over 70 years, and more than that to have become friends with each other. 

 

Compared to many nations in Europe, we are not as amazing as we might like to believe. We have one of the highest levels of poverty, some of the least happy people, the widest inequality gaps by an absolute mile and some of the lowest spending on public services. We have the highest property prices and rents in Europe and significantly declining productivity. To top it all, we have the worst pension deal. This is not the fault of the EU, but of the economic systems we have championed but which the rest of Europe have been more careful about monitoring.

 

imagesSo, leaving the European Union will help us how? £350 million extra a week for the NHS
or social care, or education, or policing? Nope. A better deal in life for those living in our most economically deprived areas? No again. Will we be safer? The police chiefs tell us not. Will our borders be more secure so that we can control all the immigration that we are told is the root of all our problems? Well no, and although immigration is a complex issue, Brexit is not the answer to it and we need to resist a rhetoric of fear, division and hate. . Might we create division across a well-healed Irish border? Yes. Will we potentially lose loads of manufacturing jobs across the North? Yes (just look 
at the new manufacturing deal Japan have struck with the EU). Will many of our businesses suffer heavy losses? Yes. Will the NHS struggle to recruit workers when our workforce is already hugely overstretched? Yes. Are there likely to be food shortages and will food become more expensive? Yes. Are we more likely to see the break up of the UK? Yes – and what of our great sovereignty then?! England is a very small place on its own! We need to wake up!Unknown

 

 

I know, we had a referendum and the ‘remoaners’ lost. But we are all about to lose so much more if we actually go through with this madness. We don’t just need a people’s vote, we need some humility and some hope that we can restore the damage we have done to our friends across the continent and together face the huge complexities in front of us over this next century – climate change, the refugee crisis, the plastic in our seas, water shortages and so much more. We cannot face these things alone as isolated nation states, but together, in union, we can! So, enough with Brexit! Let’s stop this now and find a new way forward together. #togetherwecan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reimagining the UK post Brexit – Education

imgresI have waited a while to write this post. It follows on in the series I started on this topic. It seems clear that the Brexit vote was about three key elements: taking control (whatever that means) of our own money, our own laws and our own immigration. I hope to write another blog on those three things another time, but in this time of transition, we must ask ourselves some questions about the kind of future we want to co-create.

 

imgresI have to say that when I look at our education system, I am both heartened and dismayed. I am heartened by the amazing quality of teachers across the UK, but I am dismayed by how they are treated as a profession by our mainstream press. I am heartened by the quality of our children and young people and the hopeful possibilities they carry, but I am dismayed by the increased burden of mental health problems many of them suffer. I am heartened that there is so much great thought around education and a shared learning between nations about how to release the potential in each child, but I am dismayed by the lack of application of this learning within the UK. I am heartened that there is an increasing realisation that Ofsted reports can offer only a small snapshot of what goes on in any school and are not a fair representation of all that goes on in any one institution, but I am dismayed by our growing measurement problem. By this I mean that the constant scoring and grading of our children and young people and the comparisons made between our various schools is so detrimental to their development and achievement that we ought to seriously consider the weight it is allowed to carry in our education systems. When our children and young people are some of the least happy in Europe and live in a country where the gap between the richest and poorest, both in terms of economics and educational ‘outcomes’ is one of the worst in Europe, we have to ask ourselves some searching questions.

 

So, in reimagining education, let’s reaffirm that every child is unique, beautiful,images worthy of love and full of potential. Let’s also recognise that our education system now is one of the few things that has not evolved since the time of the Industrial Revolution and is itself in need of serious renewal and transformation. In Germany, they have managed to elevate practical skills and knowledge to that of intellect. This has given them the ability as a nation to have a much more diverse economy, especially investing in green technologies and manufacturing in a way that cares for the future. In Finland, they have a reverence for the teaching profession that we would do well to adopt here. We need to think of teaching as a sacred gift and it needs to be taken this seriously by those who pursue it as a career. A Head Teacher I know recently told me that she no longer needs teachers who see themselves as having a job, but those who understand that teaching is a vocation and a calling. It is about being willing to parent a generation, not just fill them with knowledge.

 

Our educational environments must be places where we teach our children how to think, not just what to think, how to converse, not just what to say and how to listen attentively not only hear. We must help them learn about their own personalities and gift mixes. We must help them to think about the values from which they live, speak and act, helping them therefore to shape their behaviours in line with this (Steve Peters). We must allow them to question some of the damaging ways we live (war, pollution, work-patterns) and dream of and learn to create futures of peace, sustainability and wellness.  We need a vision large enough to ensure that each generation creates a seedbed of opportunity for the next.

 

The danger of becoming more ‘in control’ (as per our Brexit wishes) is that we become more controlling. The purpose of education is not to control but to release, not to maintain the status quo but to attain a brighter future, not to perpetuate hate and violence but to breathe love and peace, not to tear down but to build up and encourage,imgres not to divide but to build community, not to prepare human beings to be fodder for the economic machine but to ensure the economy serves them to be live a life of hope-filled potential. As with healthcare, we need to de-politicise the education system, hold dear in our hearts those given to teach, caring for their wellbeing and minding how we speak of them. We must partner with them and entrust them with our precious caterpillars as they hold them through the great metamorphosis that is learning before they spread their wings and make their flight to shine like stars in a future sky that the rest of us will never see.

God, Power and the Western World

In this blog, I am exploring how traditional views of God have dominated western thinking about the nature of power, sovereignty and systems. I am drawing heavily on three brillaint thinkers: Thomas Jay Oord and his book ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God’, Brad Jersak and his book ‘A More Christlike God’ and my great friend Roger Haydon Mitchell and his book ‘Church, Gospel and Empire.’

 

 

I agree with Richard Dawkins that there is an utter God delusion. But I disagree with him utterly about the nature of that delusion, which I will come on to. So much of Western thought has been shaped by “Christianity”, or perhaps more accurately, Constantine“Christendom”, and has very little to do with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The dominant story, as we have it now, took it’s shape in the fourth century, under the partnership of the Emperor Constantine, and a theologian by the name of Eusebius. At this particular point in history, the message of Christianity was spreading like wild-fire throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. It very much challenged the status quo and the power dynamics of the Empire, calling for people to change the way they thought about who God is (a loving father, not a dominant emperor), to consider all people equal, to undo economic oppression and follow the radical way of love, partnering with God for reconciliation, healing and peace. This view of God didn’t suit the Emperor, nor the philosophy of Empire.

 

UnknownThis allowed an understanding to develop that God is actually quite like a Sovereign Emperor who rules the whole world, a God very much like the one Richard Dawkins describes in his famous book – and why would anyone believe in a “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” God like that?! No thanks! But this is the kind of God that Empires depend on. This is the kind of God that those with power through the centuries purported God to be like in order to hold onto their own power, making Jesus the great warrior and God the threatening one to be feared. Constantine understood that harnessing the message of Christianity gave him more control. The church leaders understood that partnering with the empire would mean greater safety and prosperity for themselves.

 

But God is not at all like the caricature painted by Dawkins. As Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God is exactly like Jesus. He is the antithesis of a dominant Emperor. He is a loving, kind, creative, healing, perfect Father, who rather than anihilating us for our rebellion, allows himself to be utterly misunderstood and seemingly defeated by the might of Empire, only to overcome it through love, breaking forever, the power of all that stops us being truly human and inaugurating a new way for humanity – what some of us now call kenarchy, but more traditionally referred to as the Kingdom of God (a term which now has so many other difficulties that it needs reinterpreting).

 

If God is exactly like Jesus, then he is essentially kenotic, in other words, he is first and imgresforemost about self-giving, others-empowering love, and therefore he cannot be like the God caricatured by Richard Dawkins, nor can he be a fluffy grandpa, a doting dad, a domineering dictator or an amalgamation of all of these, dressed up as Santa Claus. That means that the Christian scriptures have to be wrestled with and studied carefully with this lens firmly in tact. It also utterly changes the whole idea that Christianity could ever become a “state-religion”, uphold the divine right of kings (or indeed presidents/republics etc that behave in the same ways), or the support the propping up of political ideologies that lead to the oppression of the poor, marginalisation of the other or rejection of any person based on any part of their identity.


For me, the Gospel narrative is not that God made the whole world and we then messed it up, offended his sovereignty and so he needed someone to die in our place so that his wrath could be appeased. No, the narrative is something far more profound and beautiful. Brian Zahnd explains is beautifully in his ‘gospel in chairs’. My faith lies in a God who invested himself in the evolutionary process, creating a world of order and randomness in which human beings emerged, in his image, able to choose how we would relate to God, each other and the environment in which we find ourselves. But rather than choose this way of self emptying, others empowering love, we have time and again made God in our own image of power and self-centred free will. In doing so, we have wrought destruction to ourselves, to one another, to those weaker than ourselves and to the ecological systems in which we live, move and have our being. And this is why we have different versions of God painted through the pages of scripture in our desire to understand what God is like – and we must wrestle with ourselves as we read. What do our interpretations of the bible teach us about ourselves? What kind of God are we looking for?

We had so misunderstood and misaligned our very expectations of what God is like, that he came as a human being, especially as a male, as maleness needs utter redemption from the stereotypes we have created, somehow encapsulating the male and female in one body.

The incarnation is therefore not about God changing his mind about humanity, but about giving humanity the chance to change its mind about who he is and what he is imgreslike. This human Jesus, stood at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, proclaiming himself the son of God in direct contrast to the empires of the day. But humanity did not like this image of God and so we killed him. But in his death, he took upon himself all that is broken in us and in our world and nullified its power, overcoming death through his endless, self emptying, others empowering love, and released the potential for new hope, creation and life. To me, this is the story of salvation, that out of our own selfishness, we can be re-activated into a place of love, in which we are free to choose to benefit others ahead of ourselves and bring this shalom or wellness to those around us, sometimes seeing miracles and sometimes not, because although God is good and more powerful than any other force or being, shit still happens; and because he is essentially kenotic, he is therefore unable to just intervene whenever he feels like it. He is unable to be untrue to his nature and in Him an uncontrolling love comes first. 

In the end, if you want to believe in a God who is first of all omnipotent, ie limitless in his power, you can find that kind of God in the bible. It’s a bit like needing a dominating form of government, and world order in which you are free, until you challenge the Sovereign. When this happens, the nice, good, caring government has unclear about copyright on google imagesbehind it the immense threat of the nuclear bomb, which I suppose you could liken to hell. Our view of leadership, our view of how government should behave, our view of the role of the state is actually pretty messed up, and I am arguing that it is messed up because it was shaped by a very warped view of God, who mostly cares for us, but has the great threat of eternal punishment for those who don’t believe quite correctly. That is not to say that all will be part of a heavenly future, but I would say that those who pursue the way of love are actually following the way of Jesus far more than those who follow the way of their version of the truth. The truth will set us free, but the truth is: (as Belinda Carlisle – that great theologan told us) in heaven, love comes first!! So when people pray the Lord’s prayer – ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – this looks very little like our current practices of government or nation states and the ways they behave in the earth.

But if self-giving,  others-empowering love is the ESSENTIAL nature of God, then this must images-1change the way we understand everything. The glory of God is not found in might, power, dominion and sovereignty. No, it is found in his cruciform nature. And if the earth can be filled with the glory of God rather than the ‘glory of empire’, where love is the antidote to fear, joy the antedote to debt, goodness the antedote to control through law and peace the antedote to violence, then together we might begin to taste a little bit of heaven.

How might we live and organise ourselves differently? How might we live politically? How might we shape economics? How might we heal and educate? How might we care for each other and the environment? How might nations relate to one another if love and not autonomous power comes first? There is a revolution much more profound than the violent overthrows of the past. It is the revolution of love.

My Manifesto for the UK Post Brexit (Part 3 – Defence and International Development)

Defence and International Development
Based on the facts that i) many of our military interventions have not proved to have the outcome we had hoped for, ii) the nature of the risks we face has changed, iii) we must build positively for peace, there will need to be an overhaul of our previous approach to defence.
I would seek to re-orientate the armed forces to be a peace building force, using the excellent history of discipline and service. This would be combined with an international development policy, building effective partnerships with developing nations to serve other nations in establishing infrastructure, transport routes, energy systems, sanitation systems, health hubs and schools. I would support a more collaborative approach with 3rd sector international development cooperatives to help support initiatives led by local communities. It is far better to collaborate and build than to tear down and destroy. These teams would actively work with progressive governments, seeking to promote the rights of oppressed people and communities, providing protection where necessary to allow people to flourish.
The UK needs to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, rather than renew trident and use the incredible engineering skills of companies currently involved in the manufacturing of weapons to turn their attention to other forms of engineering, like the creation of renewable energies for a greener and more sustainable future.

Reimagining the United Kingdom

imgresIt is no secret that I voted to remain in the EU. All 3 generations of my family, who were eligible to vote, also voted to remain (and my kids would have voted the same way, had they had the chance – under no parental pressure, you understand!). And yet, as my long departed Nanna would say (the one, who knew all the names of her grandchildren after her stroke, except mine, and called me, Edith!)…. “Well, here we are….”

 

Here we are indeed. I am disappointed and sad, but here we are. We have some deeply painful and complicated times ahead of us, but for those of us who voted to remain, what we must not do is retreat into a finger pointing woundedness that is willing to embrace the ‘other’ in Europe, but the reject the ‘other’ in the UK, who felt that Brexit was the way to go. No. In a world where we long for a positive approach to peace, for reconciliation under-girded by our first value to love one another, we must hold ourselves to account and dig deep to remember who we are and what kind of future we want to build together.

 

There are some really really important conversations for us to have right across the UK that will help us to face up to and heal the wounds we have exposed. Both sides of the debate over the EU have some significant hurts and many of them go deeper than a simple in/out referendum could ever address.

 

So, how do we engage together and have conversations with people from different sides of the dividing line about what kind of UK we might see develop? What might we reimagine together? Is there a hope of a Union left? Here are some things that I would like to explore in some upcoming blogs and see what conversations emerge:

 

imagesOntology – what?! Yep – in the end, so much of who we are and how we live, what we align ourselves with and how we would choose to shape our future together depends on this. Basically – why are we here? What is our purpose? We need to understand this at an individual and a corporate level. As I have suggested in my other blog (www.reimagininghealth.com) our health and wellbeing actually depends on having a life that aligns with this sense of knowing why we are.

 

Theology and Philosophy – what?! Yes – again, so much of our life in this nation and imgrescertainly our politics is under-girded by things people have/have not believed about God and his/her interaction with the world. Whether you are a person of faith or not, it is difficult to deny that for good or ill, the geopolitical worldview of the West has been hugely shaped by the partnership of church and empire over the preceding several centuries. This area of thought and study especially shapes our understanding of ‘Sovereignty’.

 

Economics – this is more obvious. How we choose to “order our house” has huge imgresimplications of how we then live in the world. David Cameron tells us there is ‘no alternative’ to the Neoliberal economic agenda with its reliance on the ‘benevolent’ free market, competition, privatisation, biopower and austerity. And whether the UK or the EU is the worst proponent of this, I’m not sure, but perhaps other options are available to us. Maybe we don’t need to have an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. Maybe we don’t have to have a London-Centric (or even with the emergence of a Northern Powerhouse, a Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Centric) economy. Does our economy always have to grow? If it does – what does this mean for the creation of a peaceful world or our ecosystems? Isn’t it high time we had a good hard look at what our policies are doing to the world we live in, or demand in terms of war and self-protectionism? I recently trained as an executive coach – I can tell you for sure, there are always options…..it is a lie to say that we have no alternative. We do. We can have a fairer society and perhaps it’s time for us to say to the corporate giants who threaten us that they will up and leave if we don’t give them enormous tax breaks and turn a blind eye to their greed, that we will find a kinder way of being without them. There are options open to us of renationalisation of some things, co-operatives, credit unions, gift economies, time banking and many other things explored by top economists, which the press give no voice to.

 

And then we have more surface issues. What about our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world now? Surely we aren’t going to believe we have some kind of Empire-like influence in the world anymore? The British Empire and Christendom are both over! So, now that we don’t have them and we’re not part of the EU – what kind of partnerships do we want with other nations?

 

imagesAnd what about education? Is it OK that there was such a massive split in how people voted according to what they had achieved at an academic level? Are we developing academic snobbery? Are we developing education systems where there is an understanding of important issues like the one we’ve just had a referendum about? If it wasn’t for our dinner time conversations, my kids would know nothing about the EU – but thanks to Michael Gove, they can tell me about subordinate clauses and modal verbs! There is something very wrong with that.

 

5517007247_63d55ac8f5_m[1]For healthcare – we already know that the Brexit campaign told us a complete lie about how much extra funding would be available to the NHS. But here we are! Given our current economic policies, it is difficult to see how our Nation’s favourite brand will survive. You cannot believe in an ever shrinking state and increased privatisation and continue to have the best and fairest healthcare system in the world! This is why we need greater participatory leadership and truer representative democracy!

 

Ecology, peace-making and so much more need to be the discussions around our kitchen tables, on our walks and in our cafes and pubs. Enough of the hypnosis by our media! Let’s find each other again, heal our hurts, listen, seek to understand and together find solutions for how we are going to live in this world. Here is to a future of love, hope and peace. I will explore some more of this in the coming blogs.

Time for a Revolution

On the Eastern and Southern borders of this continent, multitudes wait. Rejected, desecrated, desperate and dying. Our brothers and sisters wait.

In Spain, we see attempted quashing of a people movement that will not be silenced, that will not stand by whilst there are millions of empty homes and  people continuing to be evicted from their properties. They will not keep quiet, whilst corruption is rife in the corridors of power and the finance remains in the hands of the few.

In Greece, we have seen the humiliation of a people, maligned by the elite, because they were the first to fall. But a movement is growing that will not be stopped because they know that a different story is theirs.

In France, the stirring in the streets of hope for an altogether different future. Mainly unreported, dismissed as insignificant. But a song is rising that will be sung throughout the land.

In the UK, a defunct, discredited, dishonourable and dishonest political and economic elite, holds onto power and drives through reforms, based on a ideology so out of touch with reality, that cripple and maim whole swathes of society. The education and health systems demonstrate the starkness of biopower.

It is time for a revolution.

Revolutions do not have to be bloody or violent. In fact, if we were to have such a type of revolution across Europe right now, it would be the antithesis of what is needed. For too long, the power held at the centre has been used to dominate and control, to crush and to violate. But no more. The centre cannot hold.

But how? How in the face of such opposition? How when the powerful seem so strong? And what kind of revolution is possible if it is not violent or bloody?

We must call time on this utter corruption together. Change is possible. We can live differently. The well-being of everybody is a dream held in the heart of God. Peace can be the status quo. Love will win.

The revolution must start with us. There is a great singer-songwriter called David Benjamin Blower. He has written an amazing song called “Repentance is the Revolution”. Repentance means to utterly change the way you view the world, to see differently and live in line with your new sight. A new Europe is only possible, if we repent, if we ourselves are willing to change and be changed. We are changed when we encounter the face of God in someone utterly different to ourselves (especially the poor and marginalised) and learn to love them with all our hearts. We will learn the ways of peace and walk in them. Our weapons will be tools for building the future and our war cry will be a song.

Our processes will change our culture. We will say goodbye to top down hierarchy and find more relational ways to make decisions that matter. We will host and hold spaces that create environments for catalytic change.

Our values will shape us. The values of this movement will be that we love unconditionally and have grateful attitudes even when unfair and unpredictable things happen. We will seek first to understand and listen with kind eyes. We will act gently, walk with humility and integrity. We will leak joy. We will encourage and forgive others. We will speak truth with compassion and release healing and hope. We will do our best, remembering that failure is our friend that can teach us many lessons. We will be faithful to our promises because we are children of God, who co-creates the future with us.